When I speak about my ability to sit down and get 'in the zone' on command, I know that very often people make one very specific assumption. I say: 'I can sit down and start writing, immediately, it works every time', and they hear: 'Writing is easy'. I can understand why the leap takes place; to admit that you can start creative work at a second's notice seems to imply a lot more than being in tune with your abilities. It suggests that, if you can begin with sparklers, then you can continue with fireworks through to the end with a bang. It hints at the possibility that if you write at will, then you must surely be able to write well at will. Yet writing, and indeed writing well, are very different things from beginning to write.
See the paragraph you've just read? It gushed out of me in half a minute as soon as I sat here, but it took ten minutes of editing for it to express what, and how, I intended to express when I began. In Snoopy's Guide to the Writing Life, Danielle Steel says:
'I'm glad that Snoopy so early in his career has learned that very important truth – good writing (and even bad writing) – is hard work. Very hard work.
This business is fraught with uncertainty. Anyone who tells you how to write best-sellers is a sham and a liar. I can tell you how I write books. I write them with fear, excitement, discipline, and a lot of hard work.'
I think that many creative people are often capable when it comes to writing. Their major endeavour may be photography, or design, or painting, or whatever, yet they can be apt with a pen also. However, they too swiftly realise that writing is a very peculiar sort of hard work as they become aware of a particular angst descending upon the writer as a piece is committed to paper and then worked and re-worked and re-re-worked until it barely resembles its beginnings. A designer friend of mine says that he loves to write, but while designing comes easily (and joyfully, as he himself said) to him, writing is like cutting a vein open. 'It's all of those bloody words to re-arrange all the time and then it's like they have got a life of their own and then I feel like I am not saying what I want to say like I want to say it. Then I don't know anymore'.
To me writing always felt worrisome and dangerous before it felt exciting and joyful. I approach it with great fear: fear that my words will not be understood, that my intentions will be mistaken, that my views will be misinterpreted and that what I feel I can say and my ability to express it are worlds apart. And if you try to write fiction after having read Austen, Tolstoj, Pasternak or whomever, you may even ask yourself whether there is any place at all for your writing. But then, should we all give up? If Van Gogh or Monet or Manet or Picasso or Rodin had looked upon Michelangelo or Leonardo as the ultimate geniuses good only for hindering one's own progress, we would barely have anything to look at past the Renaissance.
Something that we rarely speak about is how physically draining writing is. I have had so much pain my arms, neck and back over the years that I understood even too well how anyone could get a painkiller addiction. I have often popped a few pills before a writing session, just to make sure I could sit there for however necessary. All of the self-doubt, the fear and the pain though are effaced by the finished piece. When you can let go of your work so that it can go forth to prosper, it feels like nothing else. In fact, in her essay for Snoopy's Life Danielle adds:
'Everything hurts – your arms, your eyes, your shoulders, your neck, your hands. [...] I have often typed so long that I saw double. I have had to close my eyes to keep typing because my vision was so blurred. I have fallen asleep face first in my typewriter and woken up the next morning with the keyboard marks on my face.
But the aches and the agonies no longer matter. It feels wonderful. The feeling of accomplishment, of victory, of survival is overwhelming.'
And, quite frankly, whether you are the world's best-selling author or just the guy who has started his first journal, I don't think it matters. That feeling of accomplishment is felt by everyone and I guess that's the reason why, despite the fear, the worry and the pain, I want to do it all over again.